Southwest Chicken Tenders

By Rachel Tiemeyer
September 24, 2020

This southwest chicken recipe is sure to please all the eaters in your house. It’s easy, healthy, freezer-friendly, and full of flavor but not spicy. You can bake it or–even better–grill it!

Southwest Chicken tenders on a white plate and on the grill

These Southwest Chicken Tenders take main stage in our Southwest Chicken and Bacon Wraps and Southwest Chicken Burrito Bowls recipes. However, we’ve also learned that they are delicious on a salad or a chicken sandwich. There are so many ways to use them.

How to Make Southwest Chicken Tenders

Just check out how easily this southwest chicken recipe comes together…

Do I have to use chicken tenders for this Southwest Chicken recipe?

Heavens, no! We know our readers love versatility. The marinade will work for almost any cut of chicken. You can use it on:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Drumsticks
  • Thighs
  • And, of course, tenders.
southwest chicken marinade in a freezer bag with chicken breasts

What Ingredients are in the marinade?

As a mom of three younger kids, what I love about this marinade is that it’s so very flavorful but not too spicy. The resulting meal is a home run with all ages. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Avocado or olive oil – Use a fairly neutral oil keeps things moist without an overpowering flavor.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Cider vinegar adds a delicious twist on the acid component but white vinegar will work.
  • Fresh chopped cilantro (or parsley) – Adds a pop of green and fresh flavor. Use dried parsley (half the amount) as a sub.
  • Chili powder – Smoky, subtle heat from ground chilis. Flavor can vary between brands.
  • Garlic powder – This pantry staple adds big (and convenient) garlic flavor that rounds out the whole marinade.
  • Ground cumin – Love this smoky yet not spicy addition.
  • Dried oregano – Crush in your hand before adding to release the oils in this dried herb.
  • Salt – A must in any chicken marinade.
  • Ground black pepper – Gives a little bite. Add more if you’d like.
Ingredients in a southwest chicken recipe

Can I Freeze Southwest Chicken Tenders?


This recipe is one of my go-to freezer meals. It’s so easy to scale up and make multiple batches at once.


Combine all ingredients except the chicken tenders in a large freezer bag, seal, and shake. Add chicken tenders, seal tightly, and shake again. Label and freeze.


Place the frozen chicken in the fridge and let thaw for about 24 hours. If you need your chicken defrosted sooner, use one of these safe thawing methods.

Southwest Chicken recipe in a freezer bag

How Should I Cook Southwest Chicken Tenders?

The two best ways to prepare southwest chicken tenders are:

Grill it!

Grill chicken tenders over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side. Chicken is done when there is no longer any pink inside or it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. (source)

Bake it!

Bake at 425°F for about 15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time. Chicken is done when there is no longer any pink inside or it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. (source)

Southwestern Chicken on a grill

How Should I Serve Southwest Chicken Tenders?

Here are some ways to use your chicken tenders:

  1. Serve them in Southwest Chicken and Bacon Wraps. This is my personal favorite, and I make it all the time for groups.

2. Use it for Southwest Chicken Burrito Bowls. We love this option, because everyone can personalize their own bowl.

3. Turn it into a chicken sandwich like the Gourmet Grilled Chicken Sandwich.

Create the ultimate chicken sandwiches for any weeknight by prepping and freezing all the components ahead of time. This well-seasoned, versatile grilled chicken also works to top pasta or salads.

4. Dice the chicken and use on top of a salad, perhaps with our Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette.

However you serve it, be sure to double and freeze a batch for later. Your crew is going to love this southwest chicken recipe!


Southwest Chicken Tenders

  • Author: Thriving Home
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Total Time: 23 minutes
  • Yield: 8
  • Category: Chicken
  • Method: Grilled
  • Cuisine: American


These southwest chicken tenders are sure to please all the eaters in your house. They are full of flavor but not spicy. 


  • 1/3 cup avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1/3 cup apple cider or white vinegar (Gluten-Free: Make sure your vinegar is gluten-free.)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders


Make It Now:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the chicken tenders in a large zip top bag and shake. Add chicken tenders and shake again. (Freezing instructions begin here.)
  2. Place bag in a dish and set in the refrigerator. Let chicken marinate for 2 and up to 24 hours, occasionally turning the bag to evenly distribute the marinade.
  3. Cook the chicken using one of the following two methods. Chicken is done when you cut into it and there is no more pink or it registers 165°F internally. Do not overcook. 
    1. OPTION ONE: GRILLING – Grill chicken tenders over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side. 
    2. OPTION TWO: BAKING – Bake at 425°F for about 15 minutes, flipping half way through. 

Freeze For Later: Follow Step 1. Seal and freeze.

Prepare From Frozen: Thaw using one of these safe thawing methods. Cook the chicken according to Step 3.

Southwest chicken tenders after being grilled

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6 replies
  1. Sarah says:

    This marinade is amazing! It has so much flavor. My whole family loves it. It is definitely better fresh. I made a batch and froze it. When we thawed the chicken it was very dry. The flavor was still there, but the chicken was not enjoyable. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Rachel Tiemeyer says:

      Hi Sarah. I’m glad to hear you enjoy the marinade. About the freezer meal, did you freeze the chicken in the marinade BEFORE cooking? That’s what our directions say and we always suggest that in our cookbooks, too. Cooking it after thawing is the best way to ensure your chicken tastes fresh after freezing. I hope that helps!

  2. Jerusha says:

    I was wondering why this recipe is different from the recipe/marinade in the southwest chicken and bacon wrap recipe. I thought they were the same. Am I missing something? They have the same ingredients but different quantities of some of the ingredients. I made the recipe above and it did seem to have too much oil and a lot of chili powder. Unfortunately we didn’t love it. We could only taste chili powder and plain grilled chicken. I think this recipe could be really yummy, so was wondering about the different recipes. Anyway, we have tried lots of other recipes from here and all are super yummy. Thanks.

    • Rachel says:

      Jerusha, Thank you so much for this feedback. I went back and compared notes and you are right! This was totally my fault. I corrected the amounts and now it should be the same marinade amounts as the chicken in Southwest Chicken and Bacon Wraps (which I agree is spot on!). I’m so very sorry that you had a fail with this, but again I am grateful you pointed it out and saved others from the same fate. Bless you! Everyone, please note…the recipe is correct now.

      • Jerusha says:

        Hi Rachel,
        So I’m back, two years later from the above comment but not from your site because I love this blog!) and was looking through all the yummy recipes and noticed this recipe again. I remembered I made the above comment and just had to come back and tell you that I now know what went wrong the first time when I tried the recipe. I mentioned that the recipe tasted very strongly of chili powder and was way too spicy, and we love spicy food. Anyway I have discovered that American Chili powder is much more mild than other areas in the world and so when I put the chili in the dish it was way too hot. So I thought I should let you and your readers know that if they are not from America they may need to be careful with the spice they use. So I tried the recipe again with the equivalent of what would be similar and it was delicious! Thanks again,